Business

Wrightbus founder heads honours list with Knighthood

The soon-to-be Sir William Wright pictured in November when Wrightbus hosted a visit by British Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE veteran founder of internationally-renowned bus builder Wright Group has been knighted in the New Year Honours list.

The visionary Ballymena businessman and entrepreneur Dr William Wright, who turned 90 in September, heads up a number of Northern Ireland business people named on the list.

Until recently he was still actively involved in the business, which he co-founded in 1946 and which today employs 1,800 staff and produces 1,200 buses and around 250 bus kits every year, turning over more than £200 million a year in the process.

Over the years the company, under Dr Wright's guidance, has remained fiercely independent and takes great pride in the fact it has had just one constant ownership.

Wrightbus was the first company in the UK to produce an electric bus, the first to produce a hybrid-electric double decker, and now the first in the world with a hydrogen-powered double decker bus.

Some key milestones for the company include the manufacture of mobile shops in the 1950s and the firm's entry into the PSV market in the 1970s.

Under Dr Wright's watch, Wrightbus also introduced the first low floor bus to the UK market as far back as 1993 and was a pioneer in making this type of bus specification readily available to operators and, in turn, passengers.

Three years ago, in a rare media interview, Dr Wright told the Irish News: "Thanks to the hard work, passion and ingenuity of everyone involved in the business, the company that bears my family name continues to demonstrate thought and technology leadership in today's highly competitive and demanding global transport sector," he said yesterday.

"We now have a presence across a number of continents and in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong and soon India and hopefully China.

"We have always looked beyond the present, trying to identify what challenges our customers may face five, 10, even 15 years down the line and also continually reinvesting a relatively high proportion of our turnover in R&D. I believe this approach has made the company synonymous with innovation."

Three prominent business leaders - Jack Dobson, Ellvena Graham and Rhona Quinn - have each been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year list.

Jack Dobson, with his brother Jim (who previously received an OBE), founded red meat giant Dunbia in Dungannon in 1976, and from a humble butcher's shop it has grown into an £800 million-a-year business employing 3,800 staff.

It operates from sites across Britain and Ireland, with 1,200 of its workers based at 10 sites in Northern Ireland exporting beef, lamb and pork all over the world. In November 2016 Dunbia sold its pork business in Ballymena to British firm Cranswick for £18m.

Ellvena Graham, chair of the NI Economic Advisory Group and president of the NI Chamber of Commerce, has been recognised for services to the economy and the advancement of women in business.

Ms Graham spent more than 30 years with Ulster Bank, most recently as managing director of SME banking for the Ulster Bank Group as a whole, and as head of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland. She currently chairs the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and the Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Ltd board.

Also receiving an OBE (awarded for services to the construction industry and the community) is Rhona Quinn, one of the founding members of Co Tyrone building firm QMAC, where she currently provides leadership to the board, overseeing strategic development while ensuring a strong ethos of corporate governance.

Meanwhile other business figures were among recipients of the MBE for services to economic development.

They included John Hughes, managing director of Carrickfergus car parts firm Ryobi Aluminium; ICT, telecoms and big data specialist Jayne Brady, currently a partner at Kernel Capital; and Larne-based small business enterprise Ledcom's chief executive Ken Nelson.

There was also an MBE for Stephen Prenter, a founding partner and later managing partner of accountancy and consultancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward, whose award was made for services to the arts, business and education.

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